Copyrighted material

Monopoly Was Responsible For Quick Spread of Virus

by Randolph T. Holhut

Meet the Lovebug Hacker
(AR) -- Macintosh, Linux and UNIX users had good reason to gloat a little when the "Love Bug" computer virus and all of its various mutations swept around the planet via e-mail.

It's estimated that 82 million computers around the world were hit with the virus, which caused more than $8 billion in damage. But all of these folks belonged to the 90 percent of the computing universe that use Microsoft Windows operating software and the Microsoft Office software suite. People using the Mac, Linux and UNIX operating systems had no problems.

Because of the tightly integrated nature of Windows and Microsoft Office, it's easy for a hacker to come up with a virus that cause all kinds of havoc. The key is a little known (to most Windows users) feature called Visual Basic. This is the programming language used to write programs that work with Windows. It's great for people who want to tweak existing Windows applications, but aside of the hard-core computer geeks, most people don't know Visual Basic exists.

There's just one problem with Visual Basic: It gives hackers an open door to enter into a Windows user's file system. That's because of the macros, or individual scripts, that are used in programs such as Word, Excel and Outlook to automate tasks within them and make these programs compatible with one another. Unfortunately, the common language that makes it easy to write Windows-based programs also makes it easy to develop viruses for them.

This is where the Microsoft monopoly really can hurt users. Because so many people use Windows, Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer and the Outlook e-mail program -- especially in business settings -- and because all these programs are bundled together, it's easy for hackers to come up with viruses and spread them quickly. That's why are over 20,000 PC viruses and only around 50 Mac viruses. Since the Mac-Linux-Unix crowd amounts to about 10 percent of the operating systems pie and there is no common program suite used by these folks, it's much harder to wreck these machines.

This just isn't the case with Windows. Take e-mail. Most Windows users have Outlook as their e-mail program. Mac users can pick from Eudora, Claris Emailer, Pegasus, QuickMail, PowerMail and many other programs. There is no one overriding program of choice. This means someone who wants to send an e-mail virus to cripple Macs would have come up with a program that could get into five or six different e-mail programs. That's too hard. It's much easier to write a virus for Windows, especially when Microsoft is kind enough to give you the code and the entry ways to pull it off.

The Love Bug was written with Visual Basic. Windows users who opened up the "LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs" attachment in the Outlook e-mail program ended up sending a copy of the virus to everyone in their address book. The virus then hid itself in the Windows operating software and destroyed or overwrote music and digital image files in the infected machines. Microsoft's integrated software design made it all possible.

If I were a company that used Windows-based software that saw its computer system trashed due to the Love Bug, I'd have my attorneys drawing up a lawsuit against Microsoft. They are the company that's putting out software that is not secure, riddled with bugs and loaded with incompatibilities with non-Microsoft programs; that have almost single-handedly created an entire industry of software writers who produce programs to deal with the messes made by Microsoft's shoddy work.

And if you are an individual user who's not fortunate to be running Mac/Linux/UNIX on your machine, all I can say is, be careful. Beware of any strange looking e-mail from an address you don't recognize. Beware of attachments, especially if they are not text files. If they have .vbs, .exe, .doc or .xls extensions, they may contain macro viruses that could wipe out your files. When in doubt, just delete it. If you don't have anti-virus software, get it and update it frequently. Back up your files regularly too; most folks never do this enough.

If all else fails, get a Mac.

Randolph T. Holhut is Editor of the Claremont (N.H.) Eagle Times. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books)

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor May 15, 2000 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.